Gas is flared at a Permian Basin well site in Carlsbad in September 2019. State officials say they’re working with companies in the region to determine why methane emissions are increasing.

Companies’ promises to curb greenhouse gases in the oil-rich Permian Basin are not working, New Mexico Environment Secretary James Kenney said Monday, citing new evidence that shows emissions of methane and other volatile chemicals from leaky equipment, and venting and flaring, have more than doubled in the past 12 months.

He called the news an “undeniable call to action.”

Helicopter flyovers by the state Environment Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found the emissions leak rate has increased from 2 percent in 2019 to 5 percent this year across the entire Permian Basin, which stretches from West Texas to Eastern New Mexico and contains some of the largest oil deposits in the world.

“It’s clear that voluntary emissions reductions measures undertaken by some operators are not enough to solve this problem,” Kenney said in a statement.

Methane can play a role in the formation of ozone. Kenney said ozone levels in the state’s oil and gas regions already are “threatening our most vulnerable populations’ ability to breathe, like children and the elderly, as well as those dealing with complications from COVID-19.”

Justin Garoutte, a spokesman for the Environment Department, said state officials weren’t yet certain why emissions have spiked in the region.

“Until the department engages in discussions with these companies regarding the root cause of the emissions problems, we are unsure what caused the increase in documented emissions,” he said.

Though, he noted federal regulations and enforcement of oil and gas companies nationwide have been relaxed.

“Whatever the reason for the increase in emissions — it is unacceptable and demands stronger rules and greater enforcement by regulators,” Garoutte said.

Kenney also said his agency needs to strengthen its rules, and that “every oil and natural gas operator with leaking equipment documented in these videos” needs to “immediately get emissions under control.”

Robert McEntryre, a spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, said the industry is “committed to limiting methane emissions and we continue to strive to achieve further reductions.”

“With the appropriate regulatory latitude to innovate and deploy advanced technology, we are confident in our ability to meet that goal while delivering the energy and economic benefits New Mexicans depend upon,” McEntyre added.

Praised for its economic benefit, the Permian fueled New Mexico’s state budget surplus in 2019. Oil and gas production funded roughly a third of the state’s overall spending in fiscal year 2020.

But the industry also is responsible for greenhouse gas pollution, raising concerns among conservationists.

A previous report from scientists at the Environmental Defense Fund, Harvard University, Georgia Tech and the SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research found the Permian Basin accounts for twice the average methane emissions of 11 other major U.S. oil and gas production regions.

The new data released by the EPA and state Environment Department found a total of 505 fuel storage tanks leaking methane and other volatile organic compounds.

Federal and state regulators also found leaking storage tanks and excess methane being burned in the San Juan Basin in northwestern New Mexico.

Jon Goldstein, a policy analyst with the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement Monday the new data from the state and federal agencies “underlines how requirements like frequent instrument-based inspections can clean up the air and protect neighboring communities.”

The state is drafting new rules to cut methane emissions and other air pollution. But the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund said it found in an analysis that the draft rules, created by the Environment Department and the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, would reduce statewide methane emissions by just 21 percent.

About 95 percent of the state’s oil and gas wells would be exempt from cutting back on emissions under the rules, the group said.

Unless those loopholes are removed, “the large majority of methane and ozone precursors and other co-pollutants … won’t be covered,” said Camilla Feibelman, director of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club.

The Obama administration enacted rules meant to cut back on such emissions and to improve air quality while combating climate change. But the Trump administration has rolled back those regulations.

Environmentalists have said they hope President-elect Joe Biden will restore and strengthen Obama-era climate policies to help prevent catastrophic warming conditions.

A United Nations report issued earlier this year found nations would have to cut oil, gas and coal production by an average of 6 percent annually until 2030 to avoid a 1.5 degree Celsius increase in the global temperature.

“Instead, governments continue to plan to produce coal, oil and gas far in excess of the levels consistent with the Paris Agreement temperature limits,” the report said.

(6) comments

Chris Mechels

This says it all; "About 95 percent of the state’s oil and gas wells would be exempt from cutting back on emissions under the rules, the group said." NMED, under MLG, is rolling over and playing dead.

Busy playing Rapid Response games, which make the Guv happy, by giving her an OSHA stick to beat folks with. Lacking any leadership skills, loves sticks...

Mike Johnson

Excellent! That means more petroleum being produced, production is up this year over last, and that is good news for the schools and the children.

Cleve Spence

Visit the Four Corners and view the brown, yellow haze that spreads over the Colorado Plateau. Some days it is hard to see Angel Peak, Ship Rock, Sleeping Ute. The brown, yellow smog has no borders the smog engulfs Mesa Verde, Trail of the Ancient, and Hovenweep. trump and his toadies do no care!

Donato Velasco

fracking is not the problem , that's just one method used to work over wells this has been going on since the first one. so if we stop it here in the USA , is one thing but the world use it.. how you going to change that especially since other nations depend on it..

Charles W Rodriguez

Relying on the "dirtiest industry" to self police their methane emissions is a very misguided policy. Their motivation is greed, caring little for the environment. That's just the nature of their business.

Richard Currie

No surprise here...our state government including governor have failed to regulate fossil fuel industry. Let's hope Biden and Haaland ban fracking on federal lands in New Mexico asap.

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